China's Communist Party congress begins in Beijing

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Media captionThe Communist Party's messages are plastered all across Beijing

China's biggest political event, the Communist Party congress, has begun in Beijing under tight security.

Party leader and Chinese president Xi Jinping is addressing more than 2,000 delegates in the capital.

The closed-door summit, which takes place once every five years, determines who rules China and the country's direction for the next term.

Mr Xi, who became the leader in 2012, has been consolidating power and is expected to remain as party chief.

The congress, which also decides on a roadmap for China for the next five years, is expected to finish next week.

Shortly after the congress ends, the party is expected to unveil the new members of China's top decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, who will steer the country.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Mr Xi addressed the delegates at the start of the week-long meeting

Mr Xi began his speech on Wednesday listing China's achievements during his term, and said socialism with Chinese characteristics had entered "a new era".

He called on party members to "always share our fate with the people, always keep the better life for the people in mind".

Beijing is decked out in welcome banners and festive displays for the congress.

However, the capital is also on high alert.Long lines were seen earlier this week at railway stations due to additional checks at transport hubs.

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Media captionNo hot air balloons, drones, or Airbnb bookings

The congress has also affected businesses, with some restaurants, gyms, nightclubs and karaoke bars reportedly shutting down due to tightened security rules, and accommodation-booking websites like Airbnb cancelling bookings in central Beijing.

An austerity drive, instituted by Mr Xi, has meant a more pared down congress, with Chinese reports this week of delegates' hotels cutting back on frills such as decorations, free fruit in rooms and lavish meals.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Tourists at Tiananmen Square have flocked to take pictures at a decorative display celebrating the congress

Many observers believe Mr Xi will further cement his position within the Party during the congress.

State media have said the Party is expected to rewrite its constitution to include Mr Xi's "work report" or political thoughts, which would elevate him to the status of previous Party giants Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

Since becoming president, Mr Xi has tightened control within the Party, with a wide-reaching corruption crackdown, and also in Chinese society, with increasing censorship and arrests of lawyers and activists.

Under Mr Xi, China's modernisation and reform has also accelerated, as has its assertiveness on the world stage.

He continues to enjoy widespread support among ordinary citizens in China....

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Universal Credit: MPs to debate rollout amid Labour pause call

Man holding £5 note and pound coinsImage copyright Getty Images

MPs are to debate the rollout of Universal Credit amid continuing calls for changes to the way the government's flagship welfare programme is working.

Labour is calling for the system, which merges six benefits into one, to be paused amid concerns about how long claimants wait to get the cash.

Senior backbencher Frank Field said people were being "pushed towards destitution" on a growing scale.

But ministers insist it is "safe to proceed" following "rigorous" testing.

The government has said anyone in financial distress can apply for advance payments.

The BBC Newsnight's political editor Nick Watt said he understood ministers were also giving "serious thought" to cutting the initial waiting period for payments from six to four weeks around the time of next month's Budget.

Universal credit is a new single benefit for working-age people, replacing income support, income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit.

It has been introduced in stages to different groups of claimants over the past four years, with about 590,000 people now receiving it through about 100 job centres.

'I don't even have 4p to my name'[1]

'Selling everything' because of system[2]

May urged to halt Universal Credit rollout[3]

Earlier this month ministers approved a major extension of the programme to a further 45 job centres across the country, with another 50 to be added each month, despite concerns about its implementation and claims that it was causing real hardship for thousands of families.

Almost a quarter of all claimants have had to wait more than six weeks to receive their first payment in full because of errors and problems evidencing claims.


How does it work?

Image copyright Getty Images

The idea of universal credit is that no-one faces a situation where they would be better off claiming benefits than working.

There is no limit to the number of hours you can work per week if you get universal credit, but your payment reduces gradually as you earn more.

Under the old system many faced a "cliff edge", where people on a low income would lose all their benefits at once as soon as they started working more than 16 hours.In the new system, benefit payments are reduced at a consistent rate as income and earnings increase.

A six-week wait is built into the system.

Because universal credit is based on how much money you have each month, it is paid in arrears - people claiming the benefit receive money for the last month worked, not for the month ahead.

That means everyone has to wait at least four weeks, and the rest of the time is because of the way the scheme is administered.


This has led to reports of growing numbers of people falling into rent arrears.

Last month it was reported that up to a dozen Conservative MPs wanted the rollout to be put on hold while, ahead of Wednesday's debate, it is understood Prime Minister Theresa May met a group of MPs in Downing Street to discuss the way ahead.

Although the debate is largely symbolic - any vote that is held will not be binding on the government - it has been tabled by Labour to increase pressure on the government.

The Department for Work and Pensions says its latest data, from last month, indicates 81% of new claimants were paid in full and on time at the end of their first assessment while 89% received some payment.

Verification process

Cases of non-payment, it said, were due to claimants either not signing paperwork, not passing identity checks or facing "verification issues" such as providing details of their earnings, housing costs and childcare costs.

But Mr Field, an ex-welfare minister who chairs the Work and Pensions Committee, said he was urging ministers not to proceed any further and warning them if they did it would "explode politically".

Large numbers of people in his Birkenhead constituency, he told the BBC, would "not have any money over Christmas" due to the six-week time lag.

"The government cannot honestly stand up and say this is working," he told the BBC.

"We know from our constituents the consequences of that - a huge amount of destitution, horror at people who are reduced below what we would regard in this country as a minimum."

The Department of Work and Pensions said the system was working and the majority of recipients were telling them they were comfortable about managing their finances.

"No-one who needs support should have to wait five or six weeks for their first payment.That's why we have updated our guidance to make sure anyone who needs an advance payment can get one within five working days, and on the same day if in urgent need."...

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Photo of butchered rhino wins top award

Memorial to a speciesImage copyright Brent Stirton/WPY Image caption Brent Stirton says the things he's seen have dented his faith in humanity A shocking image of environmental crime has been declared the top entry in this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPY) competition[1]. Taken by South African Brent Stirton, the picture shows the slumped form of a black rhino in Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve. Poachers killed the animal at night, with a silencer, and then dehorned it. Stirton took the photo as part of an investigation into the illegal trade in rhino products. The photographer visited more than 30 such crime scenes in the course of his probe - experiences he said he found depressing. "My first child is going to be born in February;I'm 48.And I think I left it such a long time because I kind of lost faith in a lot of the work we see as photojournalists.You lose faith in humanity to some extent." Stirton, who collected his award at a gala dinner at London's Natural History Museum, believes this particular piece of butchery was probably carried out by local people, but working to order. The usual practice is to sell the animal's two horns to a middleman.This individual then smuggles the merchandise out of South Africa, most probably through Mozambique, to China or Vietnam. In those Asian countries rhino horn has a street value higher than gold or cocaine. The trade is driven by the misguided belief that horn - the same material as toenails - can cure everything from cancer to kidney stones. "We're really entering a period of time now where every animal, every wild space, will be accorded value," the South African said."And the people who are according that value are not necessarily the people who have the same sentiments [as my fellow photographers].Somebody has to stand up for the rights of the animals and the wild spaces." Image copyright Daniel Nelson/WPY Image caption Daniël Nelson is named Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year for this gorilla scene Lewis Blackwell, the chair of judges for WPY, said the rhino image had had a searing impact on his panel. "People may be disgusted, they may be horrified - but it draws you in and you want to know more, you want to know the story behind it.And you can't escape it;it confronts you with what's going on in the world," he told BBC News. The rather more peaceful image of a young western lowland gorilla feeding on breadfruit is the subject of the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year winning entry. This was taken by Daniël Nelson from the Netherlands, who entered the picture in the 15-17-years-old category. The gorilla is about nine years old and is called Caco by the trackers who took the young Dutchman to see the ape in Odzala National Park in the Republic of Congo. Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered.Their numbers are being denuded by illegal hunting for bushmeat, disease (notably the Ebola virus), and habitat loss (to mines and oil‑palm plantations). Daniël, who is now 18, said he first became aware of WPY when he was six."It inspired me immediately, and since then my passions in life have revolved around wildlife, photography and conservation." Some of the other WPY category winners Image copyright Peter Delaney/WPY This image is called Contemplation, taken by Peter Delaney (Ireland/South Africa).It wins the Animal Portraits category.It shows a resting chimpanzee on the forest floor in Uganda's Kibale National Park.Peter is from County Wicklow but WPY inspired him to move to Africa to pursue his photography career. Image copyright Justin Gilligan/WPY Crab surprise is the title of this picture from Justin Gilligan (Australia).It claimed the Invertebrates category.It shows an octopus choosing a meal in a field of giant spider crabs in Mercury Passage off the east coast of Tasmania. Image copyright Tony Wu/WPY Tony Wu (US) calls this The giant gathering.It is the Behaviour:Mammals winner.Tony is a specialist in photographing sperm whales.This huge gathering was captured off Sri Lanka's northeast coast.Very rarely have such scenes been witnessed by cameras. Image copyright Laurent Ballesta/WPY This unusual photo is titled The ice monster.Laurent Ballesta (France) captured the scene in waters off East Antarctica, close to the French Dumont d'Urville scientific base.It shows the underside of an iceberg.It's actually a mosaic of many images stitched together.It won the Earth's Environments category. Image copyright Feelsion Palm-oil survivors is the work of Bertie Gekoski (UK/USA) - the winner of the Wildlife Photojournalist:Single image award.It is taken in eastern Sabah, on the island of Borneo.Three generations of Bornean elephants are seen moving across an oil-palm plantation being cleared for replanting.The palm oil industry has reduced and fragmented the animals' habitat.When the animals stray into plantations they often get shot or poisoned, says Bertie. Image copyright Ekaterina Bee/WPY The grip of the gulls, taken by Ekaterina Bee from Italy.Ekaterina is the winner in the 10 years and under category.She got these herring gulls to play for her camera by throwing some bread for them.Ekaterina is just five-and-a-half years old. WPY is one of the most prestigious competitions of its type in world photography. Started in 1964 by what has since become BBC Wildlife Magazine, it has grown in scale and this year accepted 48,000 entries from 92 countries.The current competition is organised by London's Natural History Museum. An exhibition of the best images opens at the South Kensington institution on Friday.Next year's competition starts taking entries from Monday. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow me on Twitter:@BBCAmos[2][3]

References

  1. ^ Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPY) competition (www.nhm.ac.uk)
  2. ^ This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (www.bbc.co.uk)
  3. ^ @BBCAmos (twitter.com)
...

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'How I got my children back'

John and Archie Image caption John was devastated when his son Archie was taken into care

When John Buskell's son was placed into care at birth he was distraught - his drug abuse had been the cause.But with the help of a family court focused on reuniting children with their parents, his life began to change.

"Not only was I using heroin, I was using crack, I was using prescriptions drugs, I was using alcohol - and I was homeless."

John, who is 49, is candid when it comes to talking about his past addictions.

He started experimenting around the age of 14, and continued the habit during the birth of his two children - both with women who were also addicts.

It meant he didn't see his first child Daniella for long periods of time - at one stage as much as two years.

He says he and the mother "really tried to do normal life, but it didn't really work.

"It was a combination of the drugs and the lifestyle that went with that.Trying to be a parent, hold down a job - it wasn't doable," he explains.

Image copyright John Buskell Image caption Archie was taken into foster care from birth

When Daniella was 10, John found himself preparing for the birth of another child - his son, Archie, with another addict who had already had several children put into care.

He began looking for a place to live - having been homeless at the time - but failed to tackle the underlying drug problem.

After Archie was born, he was monitored in hospital to see if he had grown dependent on the heroin substitute his mother had taken during pregnancy.Then, he was immediately placed into foster care.

As John recalls this devastating period, he asks for a moment to compose himself, leaving his chair as he wipes away the tears.

Once he's ready to continue, he says it was seeing his son enter the care system that made him realise how out of hand his own life had become.

"That's when I knew this is serious, really serious."

Image caption Judge Crichton founded FDAC in 2008

John was assigned to a type of family court specifically designed to help parents keep their children, known as the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC).

Its aim is to place parents at the centre of the process - speaking to them directly rather than through lawyers, and having regular two-week sessions with the same judge.

Social workers and psychiatrists, as well as experts in substance misuse, domestic violence, finance and housing, are also available.

It was founded in 2008 by Judge Nicholas Crichton after years of seeing families being broken up by court rulings.

"I often think it must be terrifying for a parent to have to come to [a traditional] court knowing at the end of the proceedings they may well lose their children," he says.

FDAC's task can, however, be substantial.

"I have seen mothers who have been heroin addicted from the age of 10, children who sleep on urine-sodden beds, where no-one has bothered to bath them or feed them properly," Judge Crichton explains, running through some of the cases he has seen.

Image caption Dr Mike Shaw says the effect FDAC can have by reuniting families justifies the cost of the service

For John, this approach made "total sense" - helping him to tackle "the problem that was right at the front".

FDAC helped him to arrange detox classes to combat his addiction, followed by a day programme.

The court is now receiving a further £6.2m of government money over seven years, through a complex financing structure - something called a "social impact bond" or "pay-for-success financing".

Private investors will pay the upfront costs and if the process works they make a profit - being paid back by the local authority and the government.

If it fails, they will not receive that money.

Dr Mike Shaw, a child psychiatrist and co-director of FDAC National Unit, concedes that it makes the process more complex, but says it will ensure the service strives for the best outcome.

But its work does come at an inflated price.

Each intervention costs around £13,000 a year, he suggests, compared to £5,000 for standard care proceedings.

He says, however, that the overall cost of care proceedings might in some cases be as much as £100,000.

The government says the additional FDAC funding will "benefit some of the most vulnerable people in society" and "achieve real results in communities across the country".

Image copyright John Buskell Image caption At one stage, John went as long as two years without seeing his daughter Daniella

John's intervention lasted around 16 months - at which point he estimates he had been clean for a year.

His son Archie, now aged eight, lives with him permanently, and he says he's rebuilding his relationship with Daniella - who's now 18.

A 2016 study[1] by the University of Lancaster, commissioned by the Department for Education, suggested that others have successful outcomes from FDAC too.

It found 37% of families were reunited or continued to live together at the end of proceedings - compared to 25% of those who go through ordinary family courts.

However, the sample group was relatively small - 240 families in all.

Image caption Archie now lives with John permanently

John says he is now "trying to make up for lost time" with Daniella, who smiles as he says it.

He is grateful for the opportunity.

"I've got two children, I work, I pay my bills, I do lots of fun stuff," he says.

"The way I live my life today is totally different from who I was nearly eight years ago."

Watch the Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel.[2]...

References

  1. ^ A 2016 study (fdac.org.uk)
  2. ^ Victoria Derbyshire programme (www.bbc.co.uk)

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